DIR/WRI: David Gordon Green • WRI: Paul Logan • PRO: Molly Conners, David Gordon Green, Derrick Tseng • DOP: Tim Orr • ED: Colin Patton • DES: Richard A. Wright • MUS: Explosions in the Sky, David Wingo • CAST: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine
After a largely unsuccessful foray into broad comedy that brought us turkeys like The Sitter and Your Highness, director David Gordon Green has firmly established his return to low-key, naturalistic character studies with the Al Pacino starring Manglehorn. Following on from Prince Avalanche and Joe, Green’s latest chronicles the day to day shuffling’s of Pacino’s aging locksmith, A.J. Manglehorn. Paul Logan’s script reads like a build your own melancholy indie drama instruction manual, equipping our protagonist with your run of the mill disappointed offspring (Chris Messina), a quirky age-inappropriate romantic interest (Holly Hunter) and of course, a sickly pet; a cat named Fanny. Manglehorn flits between these three scenarios, attempting to make paternal inroads with his successful but estranged financial wizard of a son in between weekly and flirtatious trips to see his favourite bank teller, played with an earnest charm by Hunter and a constant struggle to get his ill feline to eat her food.
Gordon Green’s past work in this manner has always succeeded by evoking a strong sense of place and Manglehorn doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The locksmith’s shop feels wonderfully lived in as does the small Texan town where it’s located. The George Washington director’s films often take time out for characters with no relation to the central plot or its characters, giving them a moment to themselves before returning back to the business of the story. Manglehorn boasts one such scene, a beautifully spontaneous gospel duet between one of Hunter’s fellow bank tellers and her loving husband. Details like this, memorable characters and the brash colourful daytime palate of Manglehorn’s quiet but living locale contrast with a much less welcoming washed out nightlife of EDM-throbbing clubs and seedy casinos. It’s here that we’re introduced to cult director and sometimes actor Harmony Korine’s Gary, a massage club proprietor who gabbles endlessly about his ill-conceived entrepreneurial endeavours and constantly refers to Pacino as “coach”, a throwback to when the locksmith took charge of the local schools baseball team. Korine’s turn is at once compelling and hugely irritating, representing as he does the rotting heart at the centre of this Texan backwater, though every second he spends onscreen he threatens to derail the film entirely. He functions as the opposite to Hunter’s well-meaning and thoroughly optimistic Dawn who exists to drag Manglehorn up by his bootstraps and out of his fugue state into a better life. Unfortunately their story never quite takes off, their friendly exchanges building to an intentionally excruciating dinner date whilst never really offering a convincing portrait of the muddled beginnings of a late in life relationship.
With a soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky, Green’s film contains many singular moments of pure aural joy but overall the film finds him over experimenting sonically, with many sequences featuring disparate dialogue sequences playing on top of each other, with a slowly swelling soundtrack drowning them both out. It’s a device that whilst initially interesting soon proves to lend an unwelcomingly woozy tone to the film that, coupled with Pacino’s uncharacteristically quiet performance robs the experience of any real urgency.
Ultimately Gordon Green’s latest is a visually interesting though slow and meandering experience, your tolerance of which will largely hinge on your ability to swallow a near endless streams of vaguely whimsical and regret-filled Pacino voiceover.
12A (See IFCO for details)